Emilio and Irma Stock

Emilio Stock was born in 1868 in Spalato/Split (present day Croatia), and was the fourth of ten siblings. Amongst them was Lionello, founder of the world-renowned Stock distillery. His father Abramo came from an Ashkenazi family hailing from Germany, while his mother Gentile Valenzin came from a local Sephardi family. Emilio grew up in the Dalmatian town, in a religious and quite traditional context. While fairly religious himself, he attended local public schools and grew in an environment – i.e. Spalato’s bourgeoisie – whose language and culture were Italian.

He was an avid reader and a determined student. His parents realised his potential, and sent him to Vienna to study Engineering. He graduated in 1901 and started working for the Austrian railways. This profession, while respectable, stable and with decent pay, was not enough for Emilio’s ambitions, who had already dabbled in some business ventures in constructions and hydraulic binders’ production.

The breakthrough came in 1908 with the establishment of the “Spalato” Cement factory, in the namesake city. In the following years the firm grew, helped by the abundance in Dalmatia of high-quality raw materials and a buoyant economy, gaining a stability that allowed it to survive the crisis of the First world war. After the end of this conflict Emilio even managed to expand, establishing further cement factories in the Isonzo/Soča valley and in Istria. Thus, as the years went by, the center of gravity of his businesses steadily moved towards Trieste, although he kept a strong and lasting bond with his native Spalato.

Advertisement for “Spalato” Cement factory on the weekly journal “Israel”, 1932.

In the same years he was laying the foundations of his success, Emilio met and married Irma Hirschel. She was the daughter of a leather merchant, and came from the town of Eisenstadt, right at the border between Austria and Hungary and home to a large and wealthy Jewish community. Irma was a smart woman, with a strong and determined personality that allowed her to stand out in the Jewish context well beyond Trieste.

The Stocks were both very active in the Triestine Jewish Community that they often supported by funding several of its initiatives, especially those aimed at children’s education and welfare. Unlike many of their Jewish peers they were also Zionists and, especially in the 1920s, they took part first hand in the efforts to colonise Eretz Israel, the “land of Israel”. They provided financial backing to several Zionist groups, took active part in international Zionit politics, but their main effort was the assistance they offered to Jewish refugees escaping persecution in Central and Eastern Europe and heading to the Americas or Mandate Palestine.

Trieste was the main port for such routes, and the local Community had organised some forms of assistance and support since the early 1900s. The Stocks provided one of their houses as temporary accommodation for refugees and emigrants waiting to board their ships, while Irma became one of the Councillors of Misrad, the Italian Committee for the Assistance to Jewish Emigrants, the only woman in such a position. In this capacity, in May 1923, she also attended the First World Congress of Jewish Women.

Such activities continued in the 1930s, while dark clouds were gathering upon Europe’s Jewry. The Jews of fascist Italy did not escape this shadow, as in 1938 the Italian racial laws came into effect. For Emilio this meant losing his factories, either “arianised” or sold in the nick of time. On the eve of war, in 1939, the Stocks moved once again to Split, in Yugoslavia, far from persecution and close to the family factory still in their possession. However, this was a short-lived respite. As a world war broke out once again, Italy invaded Yugoslavia and annexed the whole of Dalmatia, forcing the Stock family to a wandering that luckily ended with safety beyond the Swiss border. Emilio returned to Trieste at the end of the conflict, eventually dying in 1951. Twenty years later he was followed by Irma, his wife and partner in activism.

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